Combat Veterans

24 Nov 2008

En route to work this morning, I decided to stop at a local grocery store for an apple. I favor this particular grocery store in the morning because it's always uncrowded at this hour and has parking almost directly next to its front doors. You can purchase a piece of fruit, in and out, in literally two minutes. Well, sort of... You see, there are two ways into the store:

1) The legal way: Make a left from a side street onto a highway (requiring a stoplight wait), then make another left from the highway into the store lot (usually requiring another lengthy wait).

2) The "naughty" way: Turn from the side street into the local VFW parking lot, cross that lot, then cut through an alley into the store lot. Doing this saves approximately five minutes, yet means you'll have to ignore several prominent signs prohibiting such conduct.

Why are there signs prohibiting such traffic, though? If it's clearly more convenient to cut through the VFW lot, then many people benefit from doing it, I suppose. And the veterans don't like that. They prefer to be left alone.

But to me, the perspective is: Hey, it'll save me five minutes, no one will get hurt, and, hell, there's practically no one around to see me break this stupid "law" (if in fact the sign is even technically enforceable). So, fuck it... I routinely cut through their lot and get my apples. At least, until today...

Upon parking my car, a white sedan sped up to me, screeching to a halt. The Vietnam-era vet inside was already turning a disturbing shade of purple when he rolled down the window and chewed my ass out for 30 nonstop seconds. I don't know whether I'm ashamed or proud that my first impulse was to give him the finger and walk away. But, I stifled the urge and simply said "yeah, sure" after his angry threat of police action.

When the grocery store clerk, an older bookish woman likely in her 60s, inquired about the little kerfuffle, I responded, "Well, this is as clear of an anti-draft statement as I can think of -- a perfect example of what happens when you live in a society in which the state controls the very fate of the individual. That motherfucker isn't living 'in Pittsburgh,' like us, see? He's stuck in the bush with the yellow man prowling the perimeter in ominous, squeaky sneakers. He's watching his best buddy's head being blown off for some political cause that he neither understands nor cares about. He's returning home and being called a baby killer by those who weren't there."

She looked at me with something of an incredulous raising of the eyebrows, yet also laughed (as I'd delivered that statement in a half-joking manner). "He sure did sound pissed," she said.

I know! I said, "but, damn ... I wasn't the one who sent his ass half-way around the world to shoot people. How pathetic is it that his sole mission in life since the god-damn sixties is to patrol a friggin' suburban parking lot?"

She'd apparently run into trouble with the veterans herself, and had grown a bit annoyed by their seemingly ridiculous territorial nature. "You know," she began, with an evil smile (always a welcome, highly unusual gesture from an older woman), "you should do it again, just to rile him." But then she took it back, laughing to herself and covering her mouth, saying "I shouldn't have said that."

Well, I can't say the thought hasn't crossed my mind, but it's not his fault, really -- being the asshole he is. I grabbed my apples and headed out, adding, "He doesn't know it, but it's not his fault."

So, I'll stay off your precious parking lot, Mr. Miserable Vietnam vet -- but not out of gratitude; out of pity.

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